Usually, speeches are reserved for special moments like the Golden Globes.
In sports? Maybe for the Heisman Trophy.
Add to that list the National Women’s Soccer League Draft, which recently featured two Duke women’s soccer players speaking to a crowd of some of their most loyal followers.
“I think my only objective was to get up onto the stage without falling and somehow form coherent sentences,” Christina Gibbons said.
On Thursday, Duke’s Gibbons and Toni Payne were both drafted by FC Kansas City as the fifth and 13th overall picks in the NWSL Draft, respectively. The draft in Los Angeles was more prominent than it had been in years past, representing the growth of what is already the largest women’s professional soccer league in the country.
“It’s going to get a lot bigger in the future,” Payne said. “It’s definitely still growing.”
Gibbons—who became the highest drafted Blue Devil in program history—said she had a feeling she would be drafted when all the cameras turned toward her.
“At that point, it’s surreal,” Gibbons said. “I’m extremely humbled and to go fifth is something that, if you were to have told me that my freshman year of college, I probably would have laughed.”
After being drafted and making her speech, Gibbons met with media members and talked to Duke head coach Robbie Church and assistants Erwin van Bennekom and Lane Davis, who made the trip to Los Angeles.
But the excitement was only beginning.
“[The Duke coaches] turned to me and they were like, ‘This one might be Toni,’” Gibbons said.
And that’s exactly what happened.
“I wasn’t expecting to go that high,” Payne said. “[Christina and I] have that connection. We’ve both been really familiar with how each other play, so I think it’ll be amazing.”
Payne—a first-team All-ACC selection and one of six Blue Devils to tally 20 goals and assists during her career—is considered such an asset due to her sensational ball-handling skills and quickness on and off the ball. She’ll likely continue to play up top for FC Kansas City.
Gibbons may be a more interesting case. She had been a defender for her first three years at Duke, but with Rebecca Quinn’s injury in 2016, Gibbons moved into the midfield, where she registered a team-high eight assists and still was ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
Going forward, Gibbons will strive for a spot on the U.S. national team, an especially impressive possibility for someone who came to Duke as an unranked national prospect and did not make her first appearance with any youth U.S. teams until she was in college.
This week, Gibbons is still on the West Coast practicing with the national team for the first time. It can be easy to be star-struck, but she has adjusted just fine so far.
“It’s like, ‘Okay, I’m sitting across from Carli Lloyd, who just won FIFA Player of the Year,’ but at the same time, I mean as soon as I step on the field, ‘You’re my teammate, and I’m going to work for you and I expect you to work for me,’” Gibbons said.
The Raleigh native was also one of the top student-athletes at Duke.
Although she was named the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Scholar-Athlete of the Year in December, Gibbons says she hopes to play soccer for quite some time.
“It’s been a dream to play as long as I possibly can, and I can’t really imagine giving it up at this point,” Gibbons said. “I hope for me it’s not simply a career, it’s something that I hope to inspire a lot of people with my story and my journey and a lot of young girls who aspire to be a professional soccer player.”
Her new teammate, Payne, who also played with Gibbons for the U.S. U-23 team, shares that sentiment.
“I definitely want to play for as long as I can,” the Birmingham, Ala., native said. “My passion is soccer and I’ve wanted to be a professional soccer player since I was little.”
Practically speaking, Kansas City is a city neither player has visited before or knows particularly well.
“I’ve heard it’s right on the border and I’m not sure which one it’s in,” Gibbons said of Kansas City’s location in both Missouri and Kansas. “Definitely something I need to research before going there probably.”
Gibbons will start training in the months leading up to March, when she leaves for Kansas City. She graduated in December, and Payne will finish up classes this spring before moving to Missouri.
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